Quality of Health Information Online

When scanning the internet for health information, it's important to keep in mind that not all websites provide information of the same quality. A handful of studies have been performed on the accuracy of online medical information, but we'll focus on one of the most recent ones, which was published in the Journal of Pediatrics in December 2012:

This study focused on the accuracy of the information of infant sleep safety provided by Google. Of 1300 websites provided by multiple searches on the topic, the researchers found that nearly 30% of the websites provided by Google on the topic of infant sleep safety provided information that wasn't correct! The researchers dug deeper, analyzing the accuracy of the material found among different kinds of medical websites online. Of these different kinds of websites, government websites were found to be the most accurate, with over 80% providing correct information. In the middle was so-called "educational" websites (.edu in URL, books, institution pages), with roughly half of these providing correct information. Least accurate was medical blogs, with only a quarter of these providing correct information.

Sources used for this page:

1. Chung, M.; Oden, R. P.; Joyner, B. L.; Sims, A.; Moon, R. Y. Safe Infant Sleep Recommendations on the Internet: Let's Google It. The Journal of Pediatrics 2012, 161 (6).

2. Hendrick, P. A.; Ahmed, O. H.; Bankier, S. S.; Chan, T. J.; Crawford, S. A.; Ryder, C. R.; Welsh, L. J.; Schneiders, A. G. Acute low back pain information online : an evaluation of quality, content accuracy and readability of related websites. Manual Therapy 2012, 17 (4), 318–324.

By no means does this tell us not to use the internet to find health information. With its great accessibility and diversity of information, the internet can be a phenomenal resource. However, this does tell us not to believe everything that we see online. Particularly, when looking, consider the source of the information at hand. For the most part, government websites are managed by professionals and contain relatively accurate, up-to-date information, compared to blogs, in which people of varying qualifications can post.